illustration of a brunette White woman’s face surrounded by cigarettes, a lighter, a glass of wine, a baggie of powder, shopping bags, a credit card, loose change, and a vibrator
credit: AJ Duncan

Condemn the femme (and their mayhem!): the absence of female indulgence on screen

By Katherine Prentice

Katherine explores the shame attributed to women in film when in pursuit of pleasure.

How many times have we seen the female best friend on screen be the voice of reason? And how many times is she the person needing that reason? And how often is she anywhere in-between, in a blissful state of inconsequential self indulgence? Maybe she has sex, and isn’t desperate, demonised, or moments from demise, but equal to the man she is (usually) having sex with (lesbian sex opens a whole other can of worms.) Now think, do any of you have a friend you turn to as your voice of reason? The “mum friend”? I am always wary of giving what we see on screen too much credit, but when it is recycling ideas of femininity we are taught from birth, it is significant the degree to which we may internalise and reinforce these ideas. 

Women should not be hysterical, but the definition of hysterical is very different for men and women. Men can be seen on screen getting drunk or high with friends, sleeping around or even just buying something, and we don’t think twice. Maybe I watch too many horror films, but the sense of dread that accompanies a woman or, even worse, a girl indulging herself like this on screen tells me there is something wrong. 

I’m sure almost anyone reading this has seen Grease, and is probably aware of the strange message that encourages the girl to change for the guy, to start smoking, wear leather and party hard. But equally, while Sandy is praised at the end for such indulgences, she does them somewhat clumsily. While all ends well for girl-next-door figure Sandy, poor Rizzo is condemned the entire film. Yes, she gets some killer solos where she gets to share her side, and yes, her motivations are explained, but she is punished throughout the film, and as the audience we pity her. Indulgent women are always punished or pitied on screen, and this satisfies the bizarre moral expectations we have going into them; she is having fun, so she will be punished, reprimanded for these apparent social transgressions.

Basic Instinct is a famously controversial film, and trust me unpacking the gender roles in this one could fill an entire book. But, for once on screen, we see an openly bisexual woman who parties, drinks, prioritises a good time and indulges herself. But, she needs the right man to set her straight, pun intended. Despite being a murderer, I adored this character; she felt like film’s female answer to Patrick Bateman, or for more modern examples, Joker and Jordan Belfort. But of course, she is punished, and she is miserable. We aren’t allowed a self indulgent character who isn’t. Think of the women in Wolf of Wall Street or Joker, miserable and meant to be the sensible counterparts to the wild men. Now, I am not arguing that the Joker, Patrick Bateman or Jordan Belfort go through these films unscathed, but they are at least afforded power women in these films are not. And that power entitles them to enjoy themselves. I think of Gina in Scarface, unable to go to clubs or date without being tangled in her brother’s mess and killed.Think of the numerous films based around men and their attendant mayhem, where it is funny and fully permitted: Pineapple Express, 21 Jumpstreet, The Big Lebowski, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, for god’s sake Bojack Horseman even. Think of every buddy comedy ever, and then try and think of a female equivalent with anywhere near as much sex, drink or drugs, especially one where things work out for them. Dear Hollywood, when it comes to women, let them become not a little bit of a slag, let them become a total slag! Thelma and Louise seems like the female equivalent to buddy or road comedies, with them setting out to have a weekend away with drinking and partying, but (spoiler), they can’t even have this, and die, a final punishment after their fun girls trip turns to a nightmare. All I want is a happily hedonistic heroine. Not the woman waiting for the man to get his act together, or who herself needs saved from the horrors of a night out with friends by a self-entitled love interest. In sum, girls just wanna have fun and not be villainized for their supposed vices.


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